Wrist pain is highly common in tennis players, including both amateurs and pros. In most cases, wrist injuries are the result of chronic overuse of the wrist, improper technique or inappropriate equipment, such as the wrong size grip or improper string tension. However, acute injuries from falling or not hitting the ball correctly are also common.
Wrist pain can be divided into two main types: radial (thumb-side) and ulnar (pinkie-side) injuries. Many players experience ulnar pain in their non-dominant hand during two-handed backhand strokes. During these strokes,the upper hand is placed in extreme ulnar deviation and extension while moving from supination to pronation.
How Can Ulnar Wrist Injuries Be Prevented?
In order to minimize the risk of sustaining an ulnar wrist injury, there are a number of things that can be done.
1.) Choose your equipment carefully. For any sport, proper equipment can greatly help reduce the risk of sports injuries. In tennis, the equipment should be chosen by taking the player’s age, size and level of play into account.
2.) Use proper technique and grip. If needed, record yourself playing and watch the tapes together with your coach to identify any potential issues.
3.) Work to increase the strength, flexibility and range of motion of your wrists, hands, forearms, arms and shoulders. Stretching and elastic band exercises on a daily basis can greatly help improve your range of motion, and strengthening exercises performed on the days when you are not practicing tennis will help build muscle around the wrist and further protect you from injury. However, do make sure to take at least one rest day each week as your body needs to recover.
How Are Ulnar Wrist Injuries Treated?
While prevention is always the best treatment method for any sports injury, ulnar pain can still occur even when all possible preventive measures have been taken. In mild cases, conservative treatment using splints or casts along with over-the-counter pain killers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be sufficient. In slightly more severe cases, cortisone injections to relieve the pain may be necessary.
If these treatments are ineffective, if there is a ligament tear or if there is degenerative chronic tissue damage, orthopedic surgery might be required. In the postoperative period, you will need to wear a cast and may require occupational therapy. In addition, physiotherapy to help you maintain your muscle strength and get you safely back into the game is often needed.
It is important that your return to tennis is gradual. First, make sure that the normal function of the wrist is recovered. This should be done together with your physical therapist and/or sports medicine specialist. Next, start your training slowly and make sure that the build-up is gradual. If the injury is in the non-dominant hand as is often the case for ulnar wrist injuries, consider using a single-handed backhand instead. Lastly, in order to avoid re-injury, always warm up and cool down before a game or training session and continue to work on your wrist strength and flexibility.